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Congress

In the Senate, Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus released his long-awaited reform bill Sept. 16 after working with a bipartisan group of Senators over the summer. The bill includes many of the insurance reforms supported by the President, such as no denials for pre-existing conditions or age. It also includes an expansion of Medicaid for low-income working familes, an Internet-based insurance exchange to more easily shop for coverage, and incentives for preventive care.

The bill does not include a public insurance option as an alternative to private insurance companies, but rather, includes seed money for non-profit, consumer-owned insurance cooperatives designed to compete with private companies. It is estmated to cost around $800 billion over the next 10 years and not add to the deficit. Click here to read a copy of the bill, America’s Healthy Future Act.

The Senate Health Committee approved its bill earlier this year, the Affordable Health Choices Act, and you can read the summary here, as well as view the bill itself. The legislation builds on the existing employer-based system and strengthens it. If an individual likes their health insurance, they can keep it. But if they lose their job, they will always have access to affordable coverage. Reforms also will stop insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition or age; no one who is seriously ill will face annual or lifetime limits on their coverage, and companies can’t arbitrarily terminate your policy to avoid paying claims.

An insurance exchange would include the option of a public insurance plan that competes alongside private insurance plans. Any entity that offers insurance — either companies or the government — will have to follow strict new rules, and compete for customers within the exchange.

In the House, three different reform bills have passed three committees, and likely will be combined into a single bill for a potential full House vote in the fall.

The bill to emerge from the House Energy and Commerce Committee contains many similar provisions to the Senate Health committee bill , with a strong empahsis on consumer protections: No more coverage denials because of age or pre-existing conditions; decent, guaranteed benefits like members of Congress get; a cap on what you pay out of your pocket; a national insurance exchange with more choice, including a public option; clear pricing and no hidden costs; and discounts on polices for those who can’t afford coverage. As important, if you have insurance through your job that you like, you can keep it. But if you lose your job or you want to launch your own business you will always be able to get good coverage.

Consumers Union has a more indepth analysis of why it supports the major components of HR 3200, and why its critical we keep working on reform this year. Click here to read a summary of E&C bill, (HR 3200), or here to dowload a copy of the bill itself.

IssuesHealth